31 December 2006
9,000-year-old artifact stirs archaeological excitement
The black flint stone shaped like a spearhead immediately caught Joan Rennick's eye during a routine beach stroll one summer afternoon seven years ago. She started wearing the rock around her neck every day, for good luck, without knowing her talisman was a 9,000-year-old artifact. Now, after the prehistoric tool was authenticated, a local archaeologist is planning to dig the beach around the fittingly named Cape Spear region in Canada.
Archaeologist Brent Suttie believes Ms. Rennick's rock was crafted into a hunting weapon between 7,000 and 7,500 BCE. It's a period that marked a transition for Eastern North American civilization, as populations started shifting from a nomadic lifestyle to a more sedentary one. Few artifacts and even fewer sites dating from that time have been discovered on the Canadian East Coast, Suttie said. In this context, Rennick's finding could be instrumental in understanding the nature and cause of the changes. "If we could actually find a site, we could find who the population was, what they were eating, perhaps exchange networks that they had had," Suttie said. "It's going to give us something to hang other dates on.
So far, scientists have found only a few archaeological sites in Maine that could shed light on the Paleo-Indian Period, Mr. Suttie said. That 1,000-year time frame separates the Paleo-Indian Period, which started after the end of the last Ice Age, and the Archaic Period, which spanned until 1,000 BCE in North America.
During the transition between the two periods, indigenous populations traded their projectile points made of flint stones for axes and gouges made of larger and heavier ground stones. They used their new tools to carve canoes and other wooden objects. In turn, this enabled them to adapt to life on small surfaces of land, instead of following animal herds over long distances, Suttie said. But scientists are puzzled as to whether the changes developed within communities on the East Coast or were brought by migrant populations. This is why Rennick's artifact is so important, Suttie said.
Rennick said she brought the rock to Moncton Museum about four years ago, and officials failed to recognize the value of the object. "They couldn't tell me too much about it, and I didn't really stick around." But last December, as she watched a National Geographic show on Discovery Channel that illustrated how prehistoric men hunted, Ms. Rennick was startled to see that the spearheads pictured on television looked exactly like her talisman. She called back the museum and, after some persistence, an official put her in touch with Mr. Suttie, who immediately recognized the object when he saw it in February. The archaeologist photographed, measured and weighed the rock. Then, he returned it to its owner. "We told her right away how old it was," Suttie said. "It was just astounding, to say the least," said Rennick, who plans to keep on wearing the rock around her neck.
Source: Toronto Globe and Mail (29 December 2006)